Just a few minutes’ walk from Chiang Rai’s famous clock tower is the recently opened community centre called The Factory. It is run by expat Stephen Wilde, an English teacher from Liverpool. The Venue opened its doors to the public on April 16th, 2016, and since then it has been shining a light on Chiang Rai’s dark and dreary back streets, where many young and disadvantaged Thai’s come to be inspired – a community centre that is working towards seeing a change in the city. Here is what Stephen had to say when The Bangkok Consultant caught up with him at the facility in January.
Hi Stephen, nice to see you again, how have things been at The Factory since you opened last April?
Yeah things have been going well. Last month (December) we had a gallery opening, and everyone enjoyed it, and our artists sold a few pieces too, which was great.
Cool, what other projects has The Factory been involved with to help the local community?
Ah lots of exciting stuff. We have been running workshops; we have instruments that the local school kids can use for free, and it’s a place where people can get together and share ideas.
Which in its self is a fantastic idea. Can you tell me more about some of the workshops you run?
Certainly, we have Meet & Talk nights, or Language Exchange nights where locals can come to The Centre and learn to speak some English for free with other Thai’s. We also have Yoga, Palates and Break Dancing lessons, which can be a lot of fun.
Do you speak Thai yourself?
Yes I have lived in Thailand for 13 years, and I am fluent in the day to day conversation.
That must come in handy when villagers come and stop by, who don’t speak English?
Yes, I also have my Thai business partner, Sai, here with me, helping to run the community centre.
Do you have anyone else here helping out with things?
Not currently, but we are slowly getting more established and our attendees are growing in numbers.
You are a non-profit organisation – is that right?
Yes, the first in Thailand. All of the profits go back into making The Centre a great place for underprivileged Thais to visit, but many expats and tourists also visit to jam or hang out.
The Factory is also a restaurant as well?
Yes, we offer a variety of Thai and Western dishes ranging in price from 20 – 250 baht, so everyone can have something to eat when they come and hang out. We sometimes offer food for free for those who maybe struggling. Last year we offered free food to local musicians who were struggling to make ends meet through their chosen career.
Do you serve alcohol at The Venue?
No, we don’t currently serve alcohol, but this is something we are working towards in the future because we understand that many adults enjoy a beer when watching live acts on stage.
So do you have many acts playing soon?
We are always building a list of bands based in Thailand that tour the country, and we would like to start having live acts play at The Factory on a regular basis. So if there are any bands in Thailand (both Thai and Western) that would like to come and play at The Factory, please contact me through the Facebook Page.
Excellent, it would be great to see some of Thailand’s finest play on your stage. What are your other goals for The Factory?
Well, I am trying to make a change in the city. I want The Centre to be a focal point for the community; a place where independent thinking is encouraged, and a place where talent can also be promoted.
Yes I can see you have many instruments here for anyone to use. Do they get used much?
Yes the kids like to come in after school and jam together. Some of them have great potential, so if I can encourage that talent, then it’s all worthwhile. By the time Thais reach their 30s, their potential to be inspired is significantly reduced. There is a new generation of Thais emerging in this modern age, so it is time to try to imbue some of them to be better than their circumstances dictate.
Yes this is a great cause and it is also fun too, by getting people to try different things and to help the community.
Yes, I first came to Thailand in 2000 with a passion for change and entertainment. So if I can pass on some of that passion to someone else that would be great. I want to see a young person’s talent realised and let it come to fruition. There’s so much potential in Thailand for the younger generation to shine, and I feel a revolution is in the air!
I like what you have done with the place.
Thanks, I styled it on Andy Warhol and Terry Wilson who both had places called The Factory; a place where artists can come together.
Yes it’s a very welcoming place. You’re a musician yourself, aren’t you?
Yes, I have played in several bands since moving to Thailand, and I often play gigs in some of the venues in Chiang Rai. I’ve also played in Laos too.
Yes, and of course that’s how you and I met when you played a 10 hour set Christmas Day, 2015.
Yes that was a long day, haha, but a lot of fun.
So what’s in the pipeline for this year?
This year’s all about getting some of the kids to form bands and encourage them to follow their dreams.
Is the Factory easy to get to from the town centre?
The clock tower is situated on a roundabout on Baanpa Pragarn road. If you come from the direction of Jetyod Road, you go straight ahead at the clock tower onto Suk Sathit Road, until you reach the end. You’ll see another (white) clock tower at the end. Go right, on Uttarakit Road, for 5 minutes, and you’ll see us on the left. Or you can see Google Maps for directions.
So is The Factory open every day?
No we are closed on Sundays, but this may change once we begin to expand our staff. Currently, we’re open Monday to Saturday, 11 am to around 7 pm.
So what are your aspirations for the future?
My biggest desire is to open branches in different ASEAN countries and to continue to build a network of international artists.
Well that all sounds very exciting, and I will be sure to follow your progress on all of your endeavours, and I look forward to seeing how things pan out this year. Thanks for your time.
Here are some of the events you can expect to find at The Factory this year:
- Art Exhibitions (sculpture / photography / oils / water colours / digital art)
- Book Exchange
- Breakdance classes
- Free stage and instruments use for school kids
- Kids movie afternoons
- Live Acoustic Music
- Movie Nights
- Open Mic / musician nights
- Pilate classes
- Photography Club nights
- Thai Food (subsidized)
- Quiz nights
- Western Food (subsidized)
The Factory will also schedule these daily and weekly events:
- Arts / crafts workshops
- Book club – discussion and readings
- English Camps / Workshops
- Film discussion + viewing
- Live international touring bands
- Guitar Lessons
- Singing Lessons
- Stage Management classes
- Zumba Dance
So next time you’re visiting Chiang Rai, pop along to The Factory to meet fellow expats, play music, get involved in helping the local community or any of the above and more.